I’d truly love to know, what are your favourite passes?
Let’s say, first, for pure beauty’s sake, for grandeur, the ones you’ll return to, or take others.
And secondly, because ‘favourite’ has dimensions, the ones you love for reasons abstract or concrete like “they’re easy to reach”, “they’re hard to reach”, “it’s the one that almost broke you”, “it’s the easiest”, “my first”, etc.
Might I suggest top 5 (both ways), or 10, if you have time to spare, but actually any figure would be grand.
Seeing as my list is published on a number of sites already:
My unquestionable favourite is Cockade Pass.
My runners up are - in N-S order, not order of preference:
Ifidi Pass (very hard, but spectacular)
Xeni Pass (moderately dangerous in places, picking a good line is key)
Camel Pass (best value for effort ratio in the Berg)
Organ Pipes Pass (a very good beginners route)
Leslies Pass (I both hate and love this pass)
Some bonus ones - obviously out of the ones I have done, but with 109 completed, I have a fairly good sample size:
Scariest: Injisuthi Pass (super sketchy, genuine chance of death)
Hardest that includes no scrambling: Pins Pass
Steepest: Didima Pass (500m vertical in 1300m horizontal)
Easiest non-VF: Langalibalele Pass
Most boring: South Jarding Pass
Most unpleasant: South Saddle Pass
Most scenic pass that I refuse to give a 5* rating to: Hilton Pass (exceptional scenery but too dangerous)
Jonathan I’m surprised that Fangs and Bell Traverse didn’t make your list - I have done far less passes but my 4 favourites are:
(in that order)
ps: I guess the Bell Traverse is technically not a pass but since it takes you to the escarpment one might as well add it.
Bell Traverse is definitely a pass, I don’t think anyone disputes that. I have done the full route twice and most of it (just missing the bit between Twins Cave and the escarpment) 3 other times. Incidentally my first time doing it was as a day hike with Cockade Pass. The other time I did the full route was as a day hike looked with Xeni Pass - so I have looped it with some of my favourites. I also used it to get to Twins Cave to climb Mitre and the two Horns. It is a cool route - but my biggest reason why BT doesn’t make my list of 5* passes is that some of the best views in the Drakensberg are the views of the Cathedral Ridge, and on BT you don’t really get that as you are too close to it. By contrast, Ntonjelana Pass has some exceptional views of that ridge.
Fangs Pass is an interesting one - I did it back in 2014 and haven’t done it again. I recently did Madonna Pass, which I actually thought was a better pass (story at Mbundini Abbey Spire in a day | Ghaznavid Hiking). What Madonna Pass has that Fangs doesn’t is the Mbundini Abbey straight above you - which was really cool! I enjoy being directly below massive cliffs. Incidentally, Mbundini Pass is one of the passes on my do-not-repeat list.
Admittedly - when it comes to evaluating the best passes, after the real standout ones, there is just a mass of really awesome passes that I wouldn’t try to rank. For agument sake, the 4* passes. Giants, Judge, Mnweni, Rockeries, Ntonjelana, Buttress, Bollard, Mzimude, North Hlathimba, Elandshoek and probably about 20 more.
1* passes will be reserved for South Saddle Pass - I would give it 0* if the view wasn’t so good. If gully wasn’t so overgrown, it would be a top quality pass, but covering that much ground in thick vegetation is really not pleasant.
2* would be reserved for the Central and South Jarding Passes. Really nothing of interest on them. Fairly easy, but not as easy as Langalibalele nearby. Not much of a view, overgrown approach, loose ground. Just generally not worth doing.
I will probably add Mnweni Buttress Pass to the list fairly soon, had a good view up it with Hanging Valleys Pass and the view back towards the hanging valleys and the Mnweni pinnacles must be amazing.
I’m a sucker for Type 2 fun (Borderline Type 3 sometimes), I actually enjoyed going up Ships Prow South for instance…so most of the passes in the berg I will not repeat is due to shear boredom, Langalibalele and Bannermans come to mind
Well that’s no fun … Apologies for taking the thread of topic… But here is the Fun Scale. I have lost a couple of hiking partners to type 2 fun …they are not still in the mountains…they just never accepted the invitation again…I guess the scale is relative.
Back on topic…I find the Amphitheater-to-Injasuthi area is my personal favorite. From there the berg topography changes to something that does not tickle my fancy
I have a question out of ignorance: why favorite passes and not peaks? In my experience, the pass is typically the route to a ridgeline that would then be followed to a peak. It is all about the highest point. But I have never hiked the Drakensberg and perhaps it has something to do with the type of terrain (e.g. escarpment)?
Drakensberg passes in themselves offer varied and spectacular experience as well as views. Being a little insect crawling up between gargantuan cliffs is intoxicating.
I’m not specifically driven to peaks, in themselves. For views, sure. Thus in this case the escarpment kinda qualifies. Thing is due to the escarpment you dont have to be on a peak for majestic views. To illustrate that we climbed Mafadi in April, the highest point in SA (highest mainly thanks to a wriggle-line on the map with peaks in Lesotho higher in view). Some of our hiking party then headed down the valley (on the escarpment) on its south and up to reach the head of Judge’s Pass. My partner I cruised out along the contour to grab the views off the Trojan Wall. Which is the memory I’ll savour more than climbing the peak. Vultures hovering. Sheer drops. The hills rolling out below…
Passes also have unique character.
I just wanted to chat too…
Hope that answers your question.
(I’ll add that I was also curious to see overlaps in opinion)
I would say in any hiking trip the route is more important than the summit itself. But for the Drakensberg specifically - getting between summits is relatively easy once you are on top, getting to the escarpment is the hard part.